Absolute Rights Revisited

Anita Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at Utah State University last Wednesday. Then USU received an email that threatened “the deadliest school shooting in American history” if the school did not cancel the lecture by the feminist writer and video game critic. The email, which contained graphic descriptions of what would happen with what types of weapons, was also sent to quite a number of USU and local officials as well.

While Sarkeesian has shown up for speaking engagements despite terror threats before, she did request firearms screening of those attending the lecture. University officials declined her request, citing a 2004 Utah law that expressly allows the carriage of weapons, including concealed weapons, in all public spaces at state universities. Sarkeesian, who created and maintains a feminist video blog and a video series on misogyny in video games, then canceled her appearance. Following that, USU officials went on to claim that freedom of speech was alive and well at USU.

There has been some controversy in Utah over the incident, but one letter to the Salt Lake Tribune made an “interesting” point with the claim that the second amendment should trump the first amendment, and more than a few comments followed that line.

As I’ve said before, I don’t believe in “absolute rights” under all conditions, and the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed on far more than one occasion that the rights under the Constitution are not absolute under all conditions. So far as I’m aware, the constitutionality of the Utah law to carry weapons, concealed or otherwise, into any “public area” has not been litigated, but I truly don’t see how “rights” under the second amendment would be infringed by allowing one woman to speak about video game violence against women in a university auditorium that banned guns for those attending. No one is being compelled to attend a voluntary lecture, and no one’s rights to carry a weapon elsewhere are being threatened.

If this precedent of allowing guns everywhere under all conditions is extended elsewhere, then free speech becomes imperiled, and I admit that I don’t think someone speaking in public should have to worry about being shot for speaking about a controversial subject. As for “free speech” getting out of hand, the Supreme Court has ruled, again, on more than a few occasions, that not all “free speech” is protected.

In my book, neither the first nor the second amendment should be absolute… but it’s pretty clear that those who love guns more than any other freedom don’t see it that way… or perhaps they feel that they need the security of a gun to say what they want… and to keep others from saying that with which they disagree.

23 thoughts on “Absolute Rights Revisited”

  1. Bob Vowell says:

    I’m kind of curious at what order they list the importance of various amendments. Does the right to bear arms trump the right to vote in their minds.

    1. For a great number of people in Utah, and apparently elsewhere, the unlimited right to bear arms appears to trump pretty much everything.

    1. I like Larry personally, but he’s a pretty typical of a Utah gun nut, except far better read and able to express his views. My simple response to all his rhetoric is that I don’t know and haven’t been able to find a single instance of a legally armed citizen preventing a mass shooting or what might have been one. There are a few cases of an armed individual reducing the carnage. Larry is absolutely correct about the fact that well-informed, sane, and educated gun owners aren’t the problem. My problem is that all too many of those well-informed sane gun owners are against measures to keep guns out of the hands of the under-aged, the unstable, and the criminal… and most of them seem to think that their possession of weapons will solve the problem. No… Larry’s possession and use of firearms may well keep him and his family safer from criminal and crazy elements with firearms, but it doesn’t do anything for all the innocents who don’t have firearms, including a whole lot of children and quite a few teachers. His position is the extension of social Darwinism — the idea that what’s best for the strongest [or the most well-armed] is best for society as a whole.

  2. Josh says:

    In regards to the mass shootings, isn’t reducing the carnage a good thing? And if someone is stopped from carrying on with a mass shooting doesn’t that help the kids or the other people that are unarmed?

    1. It’s good, but very minor, compared to the overall negative impact of firearms in the United States. Just look at the annual body count from gun-caused injuries and fatalities.

  3. eamancz says:

    If we could better prevent people who are unstable or criminal from getting guns, there would be fewer mass shootings – and fewer innocents would die.

  4. Wine Guy says:

    I’m waiting for someone to decide that the government should purchase a rifle for every person of voting age in the US.

    Since it is a right, shouldn’t the government pay for one (or more) for everyone?

    [Can you hear my sigh and imagine my eyes rolling?]

  5. Jim S says:

    Don’t see where either right was trumped here. She had the right to say her piece. She had the right to decide not to do so in light of the university’s decision to allow people to bring guns in, in accord with Utah law.

    That said — I agree with Mr. Modessit and the USSC. No right is absolute. Convicted felons lose numerous rights, including the right to carry and own guns. There are limits to the exercise of the First Amendment, as well. For example, there are a number of restrictions on what a person can say; the classic example is yelling fire in a crowded theater. (Though the case that one derives from is rather interesting…) And the courts have long held that some restrictions on the right to peaceably assemble (such as requiring a permit, or limiting the space or place to assemble) are acceptable. Quite simply, we can’t function with truly absolute rights without a level of responsibility that is absent in society today. And if we had that level of responsibility — we wouldn’t need to restrict the rights externally; it would be self-imposed. (I rather think that this is one of the points that the Paradigms of Power and the Construct in Adiamante try to get at.)

    1. JakeB says:

      Also some of the lunacy that JimJoy Wright gets up to before he gets his head on straight in the early Ecolitan books.

    2. Grey says:

      “Don’t see where either right was trumped here.” Really?

      Terrorist: I am going to murder you with a gun if you present opinions I don’t like.
      Utah State: It violates the law to screen for weapons, so good luck up there, Ana!
      Ana Sarkeesian: I guess I’ll keep my mouth shut.

      It’s incredible to me that you think canceling a speech after a death threat is someone freely exercising their free speech rights.

  6. D Archerd says:

    The statement of the 2nd Amendment trumping the 1st Amendment is the baldest expression of the underlying sentiment that “might makes right” I’ve ever seen. Though usually couched in terms of personal security for the gun owner and protection of their loved ones, a very strong second point is that personal gun ownership is the only defense against a tyrannical government, i.e. gun owners believe that their possession of small arms are going to keep a government armed with tanks, bombers, and weapons of mass destruction from telling them what to do. As delusional as it sounds when expressed like that, a large number of gun owners, responsible and otherwise, feel deeply at a fundamental, emotional level that they are somehow safer and more secure from threats, despite a rather large body of statistics that tend to indicate otherwise.

    But the logical extreme of the defense of 2nd Amendment rights in the case of the proposed university speaker is that people with guns can prevent anyone they want from saying something they don’t want to hear. And if that isn’t “might makes right”, what is?

  7. Rob says:

    She could have done a satellite feed or Skype Video or some other kind of video conference. Edward Snowden does it all the time, since he isn’t really safe anywhere in this country.
    Also where are the authorities, isn’t it illegal to make those kinds of threats? The sender of an email is pretty easily traced if they really wanted to.
    The whole story makes me kinda sick

  8. Jim S says:

    Who canceled the speech? Sarkeesian, after setting a condition that the school decided (whether right or wrong) was against Utah law. The school was willing to let her speak. I presume that the school, as well as appropriate law enforcement agencies, were prepared to, first, investigate the threat (a criminal offense in and of itself in many states), and to protect her. She decided that disarming the audience was necessary. The school said that they could not or would not. (I find I have to make the observation that people planning mass murders, or other crimes, aren’t known for backing down when they see a “No guns” sign… and little prevents them from simply shooting the person at the metal detector prior to gaining access.)

    Sarkeesian censored herself, to the extent that she decided that she wasn’t comfortable with those conditions. That was her choice; her rights weren’t violated. Again — I leave it for people with more intimate understanding of Utah law to decide if the university was in the right, or if they were making a stand on a point that didn’t exist. It’s even possible that they decided that the Sarkeesian was somehow enough of a distraction that they hoped that she would cancel…

    1. The school directly cited the 2004 law. Legally, they were correct. Whether they were “right” is a very different question.

  9. Andrew Mitchell says:

    Correia makes a point in his article (linked above), that the school had the legal option of declaring the engagement to be a Secure Facility (thus prohibiting CCW) but chose not to based on FBI analysis of the threat. It’s also been claimed that Ms. Sarkeesian has made other public appearances after receiving similar death threats in the past.

    While this doesn’t detract from the discussion about Absolute Rights, Mr. Correia’s points, if true, do make me wonder whether Ms. Sarkeesian isn’t perhaps grandstanding just a bit.

  10. John Prigent says:

    Ahem. If anyone wants an example of a single legally-armed citizen preventing a potential massacre, look no further than Ottawa yesterday.

    1. According to the latest press reports,the shooter killed an armed ceremonial guard, and then wounded four other bystanders inside the Parliament building before being subdued and captured by law enforcement officials. No armed civilian bystanders were apparently involved.

  11. John Prigent says:

    Your post that I quoted did not specify a civilian but a citizen. Please don’t change your criteria when an answer doesn’t suit you.

    1. I didn’t. In context, I was talking about those other than law enforcement officers or military who carry arms while on duty. You took it upon yourself to interpret “citizen” as anyone. Although I could been clearer in my post and comments, the discussion all along was about the role of arms on the part of those who would not be required to carry them in the course of duty or daily life. Fault me for lack of clarity if you will, but please don’t make an unfounded accusation.

      1. John Prigent says:

        Fair enough, Mr Modesitt. Your post was badly phrased and unclear. It’s good to have you admit it, I’ve been faced with people before who refused to admit that their DG posts weren’t correctly phrased. But the point remains the same: the Sergeant at Arms, despite his title, is not an armed law officer or military person and does not carry arms on duty – unless you want to count the Parliament’s ceremonial mace as a weapon. He is, by any definition, a civilian citizen who happened to have a gun available and used it to stop a potential mass killing – exactly what you said you’d been unable to find an example of.

        1. Except he wasn’t just any citizen. He was a decorated 29 year veteran of the Canadian Mounted Police who has been in charge of parliamentary security since 2006. Perhaps technically a civilian, but in practice anything but one.

  12. Earl Tower says:

    I have a mixture of opinions on this issue. For accountability let me state I am a lifelong member of the NRA and one of those who will vote based upon 2nd Amendment standing of politicians.

    With the above understanding I do not think Ms. Sarkeesian made an unreasonable request of the University of Utah. The final decision of whether to honor that request was the University’s, but someone experiencing personal death threats would be uncomfortable under circumstances she fears to be shot.

    While private citizens have only reduced the carnage of mass shootings, many private citizens have saved the lives of their family, and bystanders on crime scenes numbering in the hundreds of not thousands per year. That simple statistic is enough for me to support the right of self defense and the 2nd Amendment. Yet I will agree that no right is so absolute that the individual trumps all other concerns of other individuals and society as a whole.

    She made a simple request for her comfort, and the University denied it as was their right since she was their guest. I put the whole issue in the same context as a house guest asking a home owner to put their pet dog outside because the house guest is scared of dogs. So I do not blame her for asking for the security measure nor for declining when the University denied her request. As a private citizen, gun owner, and some one inclined to conceal carry, if I wanted to hear a speaker bad enough but was asked not to bring a fire arm to the gathering; I would have left the fire arm in my car. There are numerous other methods in which to go armed for self defense that are less effective but still solid measures. I would not have tolerated being forced through a metal detector for such a gathering, but I see no great travesty here. She made a reasonable request, was politely declined, and she moved on to other speaking engagements. Still I do not believe it would have been unreasonable or even illegal for the University of Utah to honored her simple request; public speaking politicians in many states make the same request and have it honored on many different venues.

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